Every One of the Cleaning Women


Fifth Estate # 370, Fall 2005

from Love & Politics: Poems by Judith Malina (Black & Red 2001) P.O. Box 02374, Detroit MI 48202, $6. Also available from The Barn; See p. 55 for address.

Dreamt of something else
When she was seventeen.

They smile, they joke, they sigh,
In their smocks and comfy shoes–
They try not to recall the plans
For a miracle or a marriage…

Of the schemes that each of them made
With their young man
In the marriage bed,
Of a house in the fields,
Or a store in the city…

Now they are widowed or worn,
The man drunk, or dead, or departed,
Or unable to make ends meet.

Every one of the cleaning women
Hoped that the prince would come
And rescue her from the pail and the wringer.
The fairy tale promised
That the girl who sat by the cinders
Was to be clothed in splendor
And inherit the kingdom…
Slowly the dream wore down.

When I was eighteen and worked
In the laundry counting
The dirty wash, I dreamed
That the prince would come.
And he came. And that my talent and ardor
Would rescue me from listing:
Five napkins–eight pieces underwear–
Rescue, and lead to a privileged life.

And I was the fortunate one,
Leading a privileged life–rescued
From smock and broom, and now my friends
Ask me why I’m so sad
When I see the cleaning women
Laughing as if it were nothing.

“You and your Jewish guilt…”
“But somebody has to do it…”

But every one of the cleaning women
Dreamed that it wouldn’t be she.